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Is Washington losing Turkey?

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It seems that the relations between Washington and Ankara have only been poor in recent times.

There are a lot of unresolved issues and disputes, which intermittently cause crises, between the two countries.

The reason for the last negative turn of events was the arrest of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Presbyterian pastor who worked in Turkey’s Aegean region. In fact, the pastor was arrested in October 2016, as part of an investigation into the coup attempt that took place in July 2016. The Turkish authorities accuse the pastor of having links with the Gulen Movement, which was declared a terrorist organization in Turkey. The president of the United States, Donald Trump, has dedicated several tweets to Brunson, in which he expressed confidence in his innocence and called for his immediate release.

Some observers believe that the Turkish side would like to swap the pastor for the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who has been living for many years in exile in the US. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, commenting on the situation around Andrew Brunson, mentioned the Turkish preacher accused of orchestrating an attempted military coup in Turkey and lamented that the US refused to extradite him to Turkey.

In late July, Brunson was moved to house arrest, due to health problems.

Despite the request of the American side, Turkey refused to release the pastor eventually. Although there had been cases of detention of French and German citizens on similar charges, they were released after the intervention of their countries.Obviously, Trump, known for his impulsiveness, was not pleased with this approach of the Turkish authorities. He repeatedly threatened to impose sanctions. Perhaps even Trump imposing sanctions on Turkey expects to receive an apology from the Turkish leader, as in the case with Putin after the Turkish fighters shot down a Russian military plane that violated Turkish airspace. Finally, at the beginning of this month, the US Treasury Department adopted personal sanctions against the two Turkish ministers, it was an extraordinary measure, not every day the US imposes sanctions against members of the government of one of the NATO countries.

This was followed by a sharp increase in duties on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum, later, on August 10.

This step was a severe blow for the Turkish economy and the Turkish national currency which were far from their glory days. The Turkish lira went into free fall. The Turkish government is trying to stabilize the lira, but Erdogan’s public speeches are increasingly contributing to the depreciation of the lira.

Following these events, the Turkish police put in place additional security measures around the house of Andrew Brunson in Izmir.

Some people think it is justified that Erdogan uses this situation to rally the divided Turkish society around him. The Turkish society still has a memory of how the Western powers used Christian missionaries to interfere in the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire. I do not think that the case of Andrew Brunson has any correlation with what happened in the times of the Ottoman Empire, but propaganda skillfully completes the missing parts of stories …

Immediately after the escalation of the crisis, President Erdogan published an article in the NYT.This shows that he realizes the importance of the US, American public opinion and is ready for dialogue. I would advise him to write his column in the NYT on a regular basis, so the American audience will have the opportunity to learn first-hand about Turkey’s position. It should also be noted that Erdogan’s government has a severe problem in building communications with the American political establishment. After Erdogan came to power, the few Turkish lobby groups that were in the US suspended their activities, Erdogan’s government was unable to build its lobbying activities in the US, unlike, for example, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel or even China. The lack of such activities widened the gap between Ankara and Washington.

As for the economy, it would be wrong to say that the US was responsible for all the economic problems in Turkey, as announced by the White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett live on MSNBC. Hassett said President Donald Trump’s decision to double tariffs on Turkish steel was “a tiny, tiny fraction” of Turkey’s gross domestic product, “so for the currency to drop 40 percent is a sign that there are a lot of economic fundamentals that are out of whack in that country.” He also added a remark on the political processes in Turkey and their impact on the economy. “When a country loses its connection to liberal democracy then you don’t really know what’s going to happen next to the economy and I think there is a lot of uncertainty,” Hassett said. The Turkish economy has been going through really tough times for the last 5-6 years. Large foreign investors are skeptical about Turkey’s investment opportunities; this is due to the following factors:

* Economic and political instability in the country.

* Strong outflow of capital and a drop in the purchasing power of citizens.

* Confrontation of the government with disagreeable businesspersons and use of courts for their prosecution and confiscation of assets.

* Complete loss of independence of Turkish courts and falling under the control of the executive power.

* Permanent Islamization of the country and a gradual moving away from the secular state.

For a long time, Erdogan’s government was on good terms with the Gulen Movement, the business empire controlled by this religious sect has grown considerably, members of the sect managed to infiltrate the courts and the prosecutor’s office. The Gulen Movement used these opportunities not only against Kemalist politicians and public figures but also against businesspersons whom they disapproved. When Erdogan started destroying the business empire of the Gulen Movement, this certainly could not but affect the Turkish economy.

Moreover, many wealthy people in Turkey have recently sold and are selling their property in the country and move to other countries, and these contribute to the outflow of capital from the country. Some local businessmen who are close to the authorities acquire these assets and attract foreign loans in dollars and euros for this, these transactions, along with the current debts of Turkish corporations, increase the pressure on the foreign exchange market. The growing Turkish foreign debt and its servicing become an expensive pleasure every year.

It is difficult to predict how this crisis will develop and whether it will lead to greater problems for both countries. Especially since the reins are held by impulsive leaders in both countries.

However, it is worth noting that the problems in the relations between the two countries should not be linked to Trump, he inherited these problems from the previous administration. Besides, as early as 2003, some serious disagreements emerged between Turkey and the US, when Turkey refused to participate in the Iraq campaign and refused to let US troops through its territory. In the short term, Turkey was able to show itself as an “independent player” in the long term, it was a blow to Turkey’s interests in Iraq, particularly, in Northern Iraq.

The parties have serious complaints against each other. I will try to touch upon these issues briefly.

Syria – PYD / YPG

Some politicians in Washington believe that only the US can have “national interests”, other countries cannot have any. This approach primarily harms the US itself and plays into the hands of Iran, Russia and, to some extent, China.

Turkey accuses US-backed Kurdish paramilitary groups PYD / YPG of being affiliated with PKK. The US spent vast amounts of money on training, preparing, arming and supporting the Kurdish armed groups in the north of Syria. Millions of dollars of American taxpayers were spent on supporting armed groups that fight the US ally in the region and are affiliated with the PKK terrorist organization that the US itself put on the terrorist list in 1997.It is worth noting that this process did not begin under the current administration but under the Obama administration. This can be considered as one of a series of mistakes by the Obama administration in the Middle East, which later led to an increase in the influence of Russia and Iran in this region.

The fact that Germany, which supported the Kurdish groups, was late and could not take part in the division of spheres of influence in the region is understandable, but the US is a world superpower and has an ally in the region closely linked to Washington in military terms. For the long-term interests of the US in the region, it is merely disadvantageous to exchange the NATO country with the second largest army after the US for the paramilitary Kurdish groups affiliated with terrorists.

Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 systems and problems with the F-35

Turkey as a broad enough country in a complex region continually needs to update and improve its air defense. Turkey’s attempt to buy Russian S-400 missile defense systems turned into a scandal. The US is unhappy that a NATO country is buying Russian weapons. However, this deal has an interesting background. Before considering the purchase of S-400 missile defense systems as an option, Turkey had long tried to buy similar weapons from NATO allies, but no one agreed to sell…As the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in his interview, Turkey had been trying to buy similar weapons from the US for almost ten years, but the US refused Turkey.

It is strange that another NATO member Greece has Russian weapons, particularly, the S-300 missile defense system. However, this does not cause a sharp discontent of NATO or the US. If the US believes that the purchase of S-400 missile defense systems is a problem, then Turkey is not to blame. The consistent disregard by Turkey’s allies for its need for such weapons pushed Turkey to look for an alternative.After the deal between Russia and Turkey was concluded, the US agreed to discuss the sale of Patriots to Turkey, but in exchange asked Ankara to cancel the S-400 deal. The Turkish side stated that they did not exclude the purchase of the Patriot defense systems, but they would not cancel the deal with Russia.

On August 13, the US President Donald Trump signed into law a defense policy bill that will hold up the transfer to Turkey of 100 F-35 fighter jets. Despite the fact that Turkey had paid for them. It seems that this step will further aggravate the crisis between the countries and will further push Turkey towards Russia and China.

Assistance to Iran in evading US sanctions

This, probably, is one of the most severe claims of Washington against Ankara. According to the American side, this is a whole chain of “backdoors” created by large Turkish banks in order to bypass the financial sanctions imposed on Iran.

The essence of the claim is that Turkish state banks took an active part in laundering Iranian money received from oil trade and sending cash and gold to Iran. The entire scheme was coordinated by an Iranian businessman of Azerbaijani descent, Reza Zarrab, who was married to a well-known Turkish singer.Zarrab is now appearing as a prosecution witness and claims that the current president of Turkey was aware of this scheme. This is quite a serious charge. Zarrab also claims that he paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to the Turkish minister and other high-ranking officials for their help. It is suggested that through the scheme organized by Zarrab a couple of Turkish banks passed 100 billion dollars from Iran. It is strange that there was a loophole in the sanctions system for a while and, although the Obama administration knew about it, they were reluctant to close this secret passage. The investigation into this case is still ongoing in the US. In May 2018, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager of “Halk Bank” who was involved in this scheme, was sentenced by an American court to 32 months of imprisonment.

This episode also exacerbates the relations between the US and Turkey as allies.

Refusal to purchase Iranian energy resources and new sanctions against Iran

After the US imposed new sanctions on Iran and asked the countries importing Iranian oil and gas to refuse these purchases, the Turkish authorities said they would not follow these sanctions and would not stop importing Iranian oil and gas. We were witnessing a repetition of the events of 2003 when Turkey refused to become a part of the coalition against Iraq. Now Ankara is stepping on the same rake. Defending Iran, Turkey deprives itself of the right to vote in the future, when the winners will share the “Iranian inheritance.” Iran has never been an ally or even a good neighbor of Turkey, Iranian propaganda has actively opposed Turkey, Iran has almost never helped Turkey to fight PKK terrorists, Iran and Turkey found themselves on opposite sides of the barricade in Syria. Now Turkey has a unique chance to use the issue of sanctions against Iran to solve problems with the US and to exert pressure on Iran to limit its destructive activity in the region.

In the coming months, we will learn how the Turkish-American relations will move forward. I would like to believe that both sides will have the wisdom and patience to step back a little and try to agree. So far, the actions of both sides have played into the hands of exclusively Iran and Russia, putting the stability of the whole region at risk.

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Middle East

Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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Getting Away With Murder: The New U.S. Intelligence Report on the Khashoggi Affair

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It was October 2, 2018 when a man walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate to collect some documents he needed for his impending marriage.  He had been there earlier on September 28, and had been told to allow a few days for them to prepare the needed proof of divorce from an earlier marriage.

So there he was.  His Turkish fiancée had accompanied him and he asked her to wait outside as it would only take a minute or two.  She waited and waited and… waited.  Jamal Khashoggi never came out.

What went on inside is a matter of dispute but US intelligence prepared a report which should have been released but was illegally blocked by the Trump administration.  Mr. Trump is no doubt grateful for the help he has had over two decades from various Saudi royals in addition to the business thrown his way at his various properties.  “I love the Saudis,” says Donald Trump and he had kept the report under wraps.  It has now been released by the new Biden administration.      

All the same, grisly details of the killing including dismemberment soon emerged because in this tragic episode, with an element of farce, it was soon evident that the Turks had bugged the consulate.  There is speculation as to how the perpetrators dispersed of the corpse but they themselves have been identified.  Turkish officials also claim to know that they acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.  They arrived on a private jet and left just as abruptly.

The egregious killing led to the UN appointing a Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard.  She concluded it to be an “extra-judicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”  She added, there was “credible evidence”  implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials.  

Now the US report.  Intelligence agencies conclude Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad under the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  They add that the latter has had unitary control over Saudi security and intelligence organizations and thus it was “highly unlikely” an operation of this nature would have been possible without Prince Mohammed’s authorization.

Mr. Biden’s reaction is plain.  Although the Crown Prince is the de facto ruler with his father the King’s acquiescence, Mr. Biden has not talked to him.  He called the king and emphasized the importance placed on human rights and the rule of law in the US.

President Biden is also re-evaluating US arms sales to the Kingdom with a view to limiting them to defensive weapons — a difficult task as many can be used for both, a fighter-bomber for example.

There are also calls for sanctions against the Crown Prince directly but Biden has ruled that out.  Saudi Arabia is after all the strongest ally of the US in the region, and no president wants to jeopardize that relationship.  Moreover, the US has done the same sort of thing often enough; the last prominent assassination being that of the senior Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani,  by the Trump administration.  

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US intelligence report leaves Saudi Arabia with no good geopolitical choices

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The Biden administration’s publication of a US intelligence report that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi creates a fundamental challenge to the kingdom’s geopolitical ambitions.

The challenge lies in whether and how Saudi Arabia will seek to further diversify its alliances with other world powers in response to the report and US human rights pressure.

Saudi and United Arab Emirates options are limited by that fact that they cannot fully replace the United States as a mainstay of their defence as well as their quest for regional hegemony, even if the report revives perceptions of the US as unreliable and at odds with their policies.

As Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed contemplate their options, including strengthening relations with external players such as China and Russia, they may find that reliance on these forces could prove riskier than the pitfalls of the kingdom’s ties with the United States.

Core to Saudi as well as UAE considerations is likely to be the shaping of the ultimate balance of power between the kingdom and Iran in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia’s border with China.

US officials privately suggest that regional jockeying in an environment in which world power is being rebalanced to create a new world order was the key driver of Saudi and UAE as well as Israeli opposition from day one to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that the United States together with Europe, China, and Russia negotiated. That remains the driver of criticism of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the agreement.

“If forced to choose, Riyadh preferred an isolated Iran with a nuclear bomb to an internationally accepted Iran unarmed with the weapons of doom,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and founder of the National Iranian American Council. Mr. Parsi was summing up Saudi and Emirati attitudes based on interviews with officials involved in the negotiations at a time that Mr. Biden was vice-president.

As a result, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel appear to remain determined to either foil a return of the United States to the accord, from which Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew, or ensure that it imposes conditions on Iran that would severely undermine its claim to regional hegemony.

In the ultimate analysis, the Gulf states and Israel share US objectives that include not only restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also limiting its ballistic missiles program and ending support for non-state actors like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemen’s Houthis. The Middle Eastern states differ with the Biden administration on how to achieve those objectives and the sequencing of their pursuit.

Even so, the Gulf states are likely to realize as Saudi Arabia contemplates its next steps what Israel already knows: China and Russia’s commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia or Israel are unlikely to match that of the United States given that they view an Iran unfettered by sanctions and international isolation as strategic in ways that only Turkey rather than other Middle Eastern states can match.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE will also have to recognize that they can attempt to influence US policies with the help of Israel’s powerful Washington lobby and influential US lobbying and public relations companies in ways that they are not able to do in autocratic China or authoritarian Russia.

No doubt, China and Russia will seek to exploit opportunities created by the United States’ recalibration of its relations with Saudi Arabia with arms sales as well as increased trade and investment.

But that will not alter the two countries’ long-term view of Iran as a country, albeit problematic, with attributes that the Gulf states cannot match even if it is momentarily in economic and political disrepair.

Those attributes include Iran’s geography as a gateway at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; ethnic, cultural, and religious ties with Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of history and empire; a deep-seated identity rooted in empire; some of the world’s foremost oil and gas reserves; a large, highly educated population of 83 million that constitutes a huge domestic market; a fundamentally diversified economy; and a battle-hardened military.

Iran also shares Chinese and Russian ambitions to contain US influence even if its aspirations at times clash with those of China and Russia.

“China’s BRI will on paper finance additional transit options for the transfer of goods from ports in southern to northern Iran and beyond to Turkey, Russia, or Europe. China has a number of transit options available to it, but Iranian territory is difficult to avoid for any south-north or east-west links,” said Iran scholar Alex Vatanka referring to Beijing’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.

Compared to an unfettered Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE primarily offer geography related to some of the most strategic waterways through which much of the world’s oil and gas flows as well their positioning opposite the Horn of Africa and their energy reserves.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s position as a religious leader in the Muslim world built on its custodianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, potentially could be challenged as the kingdom competes for leadership with other Middle Eastern and Asian Muslim-majority states.

On the principle of better the enemy that you know than the devil that you don’t, Saudi leaders may find that they are, in the best of scenarios, in response to changing US policies able to rattle cages by reaching out to China and Russia in ways that they have not until now, but that at the end of the day they are deprived of good choices.

That conclusion may be reinforced by the realization that the United States has signalled by not sanctioning Prince Mohammed that it does not wish to cut its umbilical cord with the kingdom. That message was also contained in the Biden administration’s earlier decision to halt the sale of weapons that Saudi Arabia could you for offensive operations in Yemen but not arms that it needs to defend its territory from external attack.

At the bottom line, Saudi Arabia’s best option to counter an Iran that poses a threat to the kingdom’s ambitions irrespective of whatever regime is in power would be to work with its allies to develop the kind of economic and social policies as well as governance that would enable it to capitalize on its assets to effectively compete. Containment of Iran is a short-term tactic that eventually will run its course.

Warned former British diplomat and Royal Dutch Shell executive Ian McCredie: “When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1922, it created a vacuum which a series of powers have attempted to fill ever since. None has succeeded, and the result has been a century of wars, coups, and instability. Iran ruled all these lands before the Arab and Ottoman conquests. It could do so again.”

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